Diane Clarke is used to standing out in a crowd.
Most 6-feet tall women usually are. Her blonde hair makes her stand out even more.
"I get that all the time. I've always been 'that blonde girl,' " said Clarke. "I played soccer when I was younger and everybody was like, 'Guard that tall blonde.' "
She gets it even more now.
People across the country are wondering who the tall blonde woman is standing on the sidelines during national telecasts of Florida Tuskers games on Versus and HDNet networks.
"Yeah, I've had people texting me, 'Who's the hot blonde,' jeesh," says Florida Tuskers head coach Jim Haslett, for whom Clarke works as an administrative assistant.
They even call her the GM, as in general manager. She does a little bit of everything for the first-year United Football League team.
"First of all, she's just a great person," said Tuskers defensive back Dexter Jackson, the former Bucs Super Bowl MVP who gave her the GM moniker. "She has great character and understands her business role here, but she also enjoys it, has fun and relates to the guys very well. She does a great job for us.
"We treat her like a sister, actually. She'll go get things for us, looks out for us ... and of course, she brings us the checks."
"I like to call myself the assistant to the coach," Clarke said. "They said something about me being administrative assistant, but that sounds like a secretary."
She does that too. Typing, making copies, arranging doctor appointments, arranging travel itineraries, ordering supplies, and media relations. That's all off the field, of course.
On the field, she helps keep practice organized, holds up the dry-erase board after marking up the next offensive play during practice, acts as a stand-in on scout-team walk-throughs, and even fields punts for Tuskers' punter Todd Sauerbrun.
"I catch them after they bounce. I don't want to break a finger," she said. "I do get a little nervous when we do our walk-throughs because it's not really a 'walk-through' since players are running at me full-speed and they are kind of large. I just close my eyes and hope and pray they don't run into me."
Then there are the games. That's where she's gained her fame. People have called the networks asking who she is, what she's doing standing there on the sidelines, so involved in a "man's game."
The quick assumption most people have is that she's a trainer.
"I'm not a trainer in the least bit," Carke said. "I can put a Band-aid on if you are bleeding, but I hate blood. I'm tough but some stuff still grosses me out."
"People just aren't used to seeing women on staff, so apparently that's probably why everyone is so interested in knowing who I am and what I do."
Clarke charts the offensive plays during games for Tuskers' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
"She was going to be an intern for us with the Predators," said Gruden, the former Arena Football League coach of the Orlando Predators. "Then the league went under, so that was it.
"But then she called me out of the blue when she heard I was working for the UFL and I knew we were understaffed, so I asked coach Haslett and he said 'Yeah, we could use somebody,' and here she is, doing a great job.
"She's handled it well. It's not easy hanging around 53 guys. She's handled it like a total pro and all the guys respect her and treat her good and there has never been a problem like I thought there might be, initially."
Oh yeah, those 53 guys. That can be an issue for the only woman wandering around the practice field and sometimes the locker room.
"If I ever do have to go through the locker room, it's eyes straight forward," said Clarke, who usually limits her locker room presence to the training room just inside the Citrus Bowl locker room doors.
And of course, she's always asked if she dates the players.
"That's the first rule," said Clarke, who does date a football player, but not a Florida Tusker. "Coach Haslett told me right off there was no dating the players, which I knew he had to say, but I said, 'That's not a problem."
And what does her boyfriend think of her work surroundings?
"He'd certainly rather I worked for an all-female team," she said of her boyfriend, the name of whom she would not divulge, "but he's been pretty good about it. He did see me on ESPN highlights one time and was bummed because I made it on ESPN before he did."
Clarke, a native of Titusville, majored in inner-disciplinary studies at UCF, which seems like the perfect major for dealing with a large group of football players.
"They give me a hard time and they get it right back," Clarke said. "They don't pull any punches. They don't treat me like I am a woman. They say what they want to. The locker room talk doesn't turn off around me. Now, if there's another woman around, though, they are pretty good about stopping.
"I had one player who's no longer with us who use to hit me and kick me and I'd tell him, 'You're not supposed to hit girls,' and he would say, 'You're not a girl, you're like our sister.'
"I'm tough, tougher than your average woman and yes I'm an athlete, but I'm still a girl."
And it's that toughness that helped carry her through an extremely difficult period in her life toward the end of her days at Titusville Astronaut High School.
Clarke was a standout basketball player. She started as a freshman on the Astronaut team that made it all the way to the state championship, where they lost. But she had three more years to chase that state-title dream.
Her body, however, started to take on changes and she wasn't sure what was wrong with her. She always just chalked it up to stress from the daily life of a typical teenager.
She was constantly fatigued, always hungry and her body seemed to never cool down. In basketball practice, she was instantly warn out after just a few trips down the court.
She had never heard of Graves disease, which is an auto-immune disorder that leads to an overactive thyroid gland, but she would become quite familiar with it over the next few years.
One night in bed, she awoke to severe heart palpitations.
"I didn't think I was going to make it through the night," Clarke said. "They immediately put me on a beta-blocker, which probably saved my life right there."
After two radiation treatments to kill the thyroid, doctors were eventually able to get her set up on synthetic thyroid medication and she finally overcame all of the symptoms. Her basketball career, however, was put on hold. She enrolled at USF as a freshman, but it didnt take long for the yearning to come back.
Something was missing, so I decided the following year to play, Clarke said. I played two years at Hillsborough and a year at UCF. The coach resigned after the 06-07 season and that was about it. A new coach came in and some of us were not brought back, and I had knee surgery and was on crutches when she came in and I was a senior ... made sense I guess.
But she had to stay involved in sports. She has worked Orlando Magic basketball camps during the summers and was still looking for that break when she finally latched on with the Tuskers.
We were looking for somebody to come in and do some administrative things, odds and ends for us while still being able to chart and do some football things, Haslett said. She kind of does a wide array of things. Takes care of all supplies, does a lot of typing for us, charts during the games, takes care of all of the offensive plays charting. You name it, she does it.
"The league is very aware of what she's capable of," Gruden said. "She'll climb the ladder fast."
But does she want to be a coach?
"Not football," Clarke says matter of factly.
For now, she'll bask a little longer in her "celebrity" status.
And given her TV face time, now shes just one in a line of Titusville celebrities. Dont be surprised if in the future Titusville erects a sign at the entrance to town that reads Welcome to Titusville, home of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Cris Collinsworth, Wilber Marshall and Diane Clarke.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun